5 Tips To Start Playing Jazz With Your Acoustic Guitar

5 Tips To Start Playing Jazz With Your Acoustic Guitar

The sound of jazz guitar is usually associated with the electric guitar. However, we often forget that there is a completely developed contemporary acoustic segment of this genre! Jazz on a acoustic guitar may sound a bit different, but is as very rich in style and substance.

If you have an acoustic guitar – or plan on getting one – there are some things you might want to know about playing jazz on this instrument. Today we are going to show you 5 tips to start play jazz with your acoustic guitar, that should get you on the right track.

1. Steel or nylon?

For the most part, this question is completely up to you. More conservative jazz players prefer a nylon classical guitar for its warmer tone. Yet, you can definitely use a good old steel-string acoustic as well. The latter generally costs less, and is more practical if you like to play other genres aside from jazz. On the other hand, an advantage using a classical guitar is the softer tone, as well as some of the similarities of technique. Acoustic jazz technique relies a lot on the basics of classical guitar, through shared fingerpicking patterns and other nuances.

2. Fingerpicking

Fingerpicking is a technique that is widely used when jazz is played on an acoustic guitar. Most of the great jazz players will usually default to standard classical guitar style of fingerpicking. In simple terms, picking hand’s thumb should cover the lowest three strings. The highest three strings are played with your index, middle and ring finger respectively.

When you are playing single note sections, the most recommended technique is to alternate your index and middle finger on the same string. This is very similar to the technique you would use on electric bass, for example.

3. Use the Dynamics of Your Guitar

When it’s unplugged and in its natural state, an acoustic guitar is a very versatile tool. Everything you do on it get’s “amplified” in an organic way. It takes a bit of work, but learning to manipulate the dynamic nature of the instrument can get you far when it comes to your expressive capabilities. You can palm mute some tones, or accentuate others by strumming harder. These are just two small examples. Every acoustic instrument behaves differently. Your acoustic guitar may very well have a few “hidden” qualities you didn’t know existed! Make sure you spend some time with yours,  and you will open the doors to new avenues of creativity!

4. Use The Emotions Your Guitar Offers You

The main difference between an acoustic guitar and an electric one is the nature of the tone. Sure, an electric guitar sounds more metallic and gives you lots of advanced options to build your tone. However, nothing comes close to that warm, sweet tone of an acoustic guitar.

This is even more emphasized on a classical guitar. Use that unique form of expression and explore how every string sounds when you play it. Build a technique that will translate your emotions straight into a wonderful piece of jazz. Over time, you will understand just how powerful an acoustic guitar’s tone really is.

5. Learn To Add Chromaticism

Chromaticism is something that is used often in jazz and adds a layer of complexity to a piece in a very organic way. With that said, this technique has a more profound impact on acoustic jazz guitar. In general, once you reach the end of your chord progression, and it’s time to start from the beginning. Add a chromatic bridge in there somewhere, and you can really spice up the overall aesthetics of your performance.


Whether you are just starting to learn jazz, or have been playing jazz for a while, switching to an acoustic guitar is both challenging and fun. It might take some time to completely cross over to the world of fingerpicking and learning all the necessary techniques, but it’s well worth the effort.

Once you are able to sit down and play until your hands fall off, you will understand just how amazing acoustic jazz can be. In terms of theory and useful information, we urge you to check out the basic and advanced classical guitar techniques. Not only will you learn something new, but you will also find a lot of relevant information.

About The Author

Paul is the guitar expert at MusicSkanner. Not only can he play guitar like a pro, but he also knows every component of guitars down to the screws. Paul has been working on guitars for years, including building his own instruments. His technical knowledge of guitar hardware is what we base most of our guitar related articles on. If you need information about guitars, you ask Paul.

6 thoughts on “5 Tips To Start Playing Jazz With Your Acoustic Guitar

  1. In fact, I (try to) play jazz with a metal strung acoustic dreadnought out of necessity, I can’t afford an electric guitar by the moment. Some time after I decided to jump to jazz from blues (for which my 1975 Ibanez Vintage 627 was quite fine) I added a magnetic pickup to the sound hole for the only purpose of recording directly with my laptop. Hmmmm it’s not quite the sound I was looking for so I mix the pickup signal with a mike pointing to the neck side of the soundhole, and that makes the trick. No complaints except for the squeak and swish sound when moving from chord to chord, but that seems unavoidable. Even Tommy Emmanuel swissshesss from chord to chord sometimes…

    Maybe Santa gets me a Gibson Les Paul, ES 335 or similar but I don’t think so. I’ve been a bad boy because I don’t still dominate the circle of fourths! 🙂

    • I wish you all the guitars you want for Xmas 😉

      Though, I have to admit that metal strung acoustic guitar in jazz rhyme with Gypsy Jazz to me. I think this is where you can get a whole plethora of ideas.

  2. I have been playing jazz on a acoustic classical guitar for years. I prefer the rich, warm, sensitive tone of nylon strings. I own a epiphone emperor that cost 3 times as much as my yamaha classical but enjoy the nylon string acoustic more.

    • I agree with you. I also personally really like the tone of nylon strings. I have a Takamine that I really enjoy playing Jazz on and especially Bossa Nova!

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